We're back to Quistis, just FYI. Also, warning for a mild lemon (mild in comparison to chapter ten anyway) right at the beginning. You'll know when. Safe to keep reading when Seifer gets up from the bed, if you don't like lemons.
Metastasis: a rapid transition, as from one subject to another.
Beep, beep, beep, beep…
Quistis groaned and rolled over, pulling the covers over her face. Maybe if she ignored it, it would just go away.
Beep, beep, beep, beep…
A heavy arm swung around and smacked her on the side and she grunted, pinching her eyebrows together.
"Quis...shut the damn thing off," Seifer mumbled.
She groaned again and reached out without opening her eyes, patting her nightstand blindly for her cell phone. When her fingers touched its smooth glass screen, she wrapped her fingers around it and pulled it in front of her face, cracking her right eye open.
The bright glare of the screen blinded her momentarily and she blinked rapidly as she hit 'snooze' on the alarm. With a relieved sigh, she placed it back on the nightstand and rolled over, nuzzling against Seifer's back.
She hadn't been settled for more than a second when he spoke up. "I don't know why you have to wake up so Hyne-damned early," he muttered into his pillow.
Adjusting her cheek against his shoulder blade—muscular men were not as comfortable to cuddle with as people seemed to think—she replied, "Meeting with Squall, remember?"
A slight smile teased at the corners of her lips and she closed her eyes again, reveling in the blissful silence of their room. Before she knew it, she'd drifted back off to sleep.
Beep, beep, beep, beep…
"For fuck's sake, Quistis!"
"I'm sorry!" she yelped, hastily rolling over and swiping her phone off of the nightstand. She turned off the alarm and sat up in bed, rubbing her eyes to rid them of sleep.
With a sigh, she pulled her glasses on and absentmindedly stared across the room at the tv, taking in the blank screen without realizing she was even looking at it. Eventually, she threw back the covers and traipsed over to the bathroom, flipping on the light once she'd stepped inside.
Once she was in the shower, it was easier for her to start waking up. She cranked up the temperature and when the water was just on the brink of comfortable and slightly too hot, she sighed in content.
By the time she was finished and had stepped out onto the towel she'd thrown onto the ground, she was completely up. The hardest thing about mornings was actually waking up; Quistis had no problem being awake once she'd managed to get herself moving and into the shower.
After she dried herself off, she wrapped the towel around her still-dripping hair and trekked back into the bedroom, meandering over to her duffel bag to grab a change of clothes. Her usual peach battle-dress was still being dry-cleaned—since there was a huge splotch of blood on the front—and she had to make-do with more casual clothing. She'd barely straightened and moved to pull on her underwear when Seifer's arms wrapped around her bare waist.
Quistis lowered her arms with a small grin on her face and said, "I'm supposed to be getting ready, you know…"
"I know. I'm helping," he said in a raspy voice.
"How is this helping?" she whispered back.
He hummed and started lightly dragging his palms up and down her lean stomach, causing her lower abdomen to tighten in response. The change in temperature from scalding water, to the cool room air, and now to his warm hands was causing her skin to be overly sensitive.
"Seifer…" She tried to reprimand him, but she realized that she didn't want to turn him away—not really.
"I'll make it quick. Promise," he murmured into her ear, tracing his lips along the outer shell. He reached up and pulled on her towel, causing the wet strands of her hair to fall down around her face.
"Well, if you're promising, then how can I say no?" she asked in a sultry voice.
He'd had his lips against her neck when she'd spoken and she felt them curve upwards in a smile as he dragged her back to bed. After pushing her back onto the mattress, he climbed on top of her and she wrapped her legs around his waist. Without any sort of preamble, he thrust into her and she arched her back, gasping at the sensation.
Seifer groaned in return and leaned down, hooking his arms underneath her and lifting her body up so that he could embrace her, as well as control the speed at which she lowered herself onto him. That didn't sit well with the competitive streak in Quistis, so she wound her arms around his neck and jerked her weight to the side, causing him to fall back down onto the bed.
Once his back was flush against the covers, she swung her leg over his hips and took her time lowering herself back onto him, and his hands flew up and gripped her sides. Inch by torturous inch, she took him inside of her and when she bottomed out, they both let out a long, strained moan.
His fingers tightened around her waist and he lifted her body up, pulling her crashing back down immediately afterwards. She gasped at the sharp pulse of pleasure in her abdomen and rocked against him, rubbing her clit on the spot above where they were joined. She sucked in a sharp inhale and continued to rock against him every time he pulled out and thrust up into her.
A few minutes later, his thrusts became more frantic and she couldn't keep up with his frenzied pace. Frustrated that he would probably reach his peak before she would, she whimpered slightly and he reached up, placing his thumb against her clit.
As if he'd read her thoughts, in a strained voice, he reassured, "I wouldn't do that to ya, Quis."
She reached around and grabbed his wrist, encouraging him, and he planted his hand against her back so she'd remain balanced. The more he thrust, the more he circled his thumb and before she knew it, the tension that had wound so tightly within her snapped and she cried out, squeezing her eyes shut as she rode the waves of pleasure that overtook her.
Unsure of whether it was seconds or minutes that had passed, she slowly opened her eyes again once she'd come down from her high and met Seifer's hooded gaze. He was running his hands up and down her sides—so lightly that it almost tickled. When he saw that she'd recovered, he pulled her off of him but she remained poised above his body.
With a teasing smile, she said, "If we're late, I'm going to kill you."
"Woooow, are you seriously complaining right now?" he threw back at her with a grin as he rolled out from under her and off the bed.
"Only a little bit, but it is a valid concern," she replied defensively, resting the backs of her thighs on her calves.
"Yeah, to you maybe. I thought that was worth it," he retorted, making his way into the bathroom.
When he disappeared from view, she let out a small laugh and climbed off the bed, padding back over to her duffel bag. Quickly, she finished getting dressed and wandered into the bathroom.
She heard him start up the shower as she fought to get the knots out of her hair. Having fine hair meant that a slight tangle could easily turn into a bird's nest, so she had to carefully maneuver her way through the snags. Once she could run the comb through the strands with ease, she grabbed the hair-dryer and ran the concentrated gust of warm air over her hair until it was only slightly damp.
Seifer pulled back the shower curtain as she reached behind her and grabbed the ends of her golden hair. She twisted them together and flipping them upwards as she pinned them in place with her usual clip.
"You're fast," he commented.
"No, I'm late," she rebutted.
"Whatever, who cares? It's just Puberty Boy," he mocked, wrapping a towel around his slim waist.
In the mirror, she couldn't help raking her eyes over the ripples of his muscular abdomen and cleared her throat. "Regardless of the fact that it's Squall, I hate being late. You should know that by now."
He scoffed and stood there, watching her with his hands on his hips. "You know it's gonna take me at least another fifteen minutes to get ready, right?"
She let out an exasperated sigh. "I can't wait that long, Seifer. I'll just meet you in the conference room."
"It's fifteen minutes, Quistis!" he exclaimed with a roll of his eyes.
"Yes, fifteen minutes beyond how late I already am," she informed him in a stern voice, whirling around and mirroring his posture.
He shook his head in disbelief and teased, "Only you would say that fifteen minutes is 'late'. That's normal for the rest of us. Why are you in such a damn hurry, anyway? You got a problem with showin' up together?"
His words made her pause and she averted her gaze, hoping he wouldn't catch on. She wasn't sure how to answer his question without giving anything away. When she didn't respond right away, Seifer frowned and muttered, "Wait. Are you fuckin' serious?"
Feigning ignorance, she sputtered and replied, "That's not it at all. Why would you think that?"
"Because you're practically running out the door," he accused.
"That's ridiculous, Seifer," she said, traipsing out of the bathroom. She passed the main door and grabbed her boots from where she'd left them by the wall, placing her feet in them and pulling the zippers up.
Truthfully, as sad as it was for her to admit, he was right: she was trying to avoid having them arrive at the meeting together.
Though they'd been nearly inseparable since she'd woken up from her surgery a few days ago, those were private moments and nearly all of them—if not all of them—had occurred behind closed doors. Appearing together, at the same time nonetheless, to a work meeting, would imply that the dynamic between them had changed; she wasn't naive, she knew that it had. She just didn't know whether that was something that she was ready to admit to all of their friends.
Well, her friends. For him, they had just been people he grew up with due to happenstance. Or, they had been that. Now, what he considered them, and they him, was ambiguous at best.
It wasn't that she didn't care about him, because she did. She just wasn't sure exactly how. Did she want the best for him? Of course she did. In addition to everything that had happened between them the past few days, he was a part of their original group—despite what had happened during the war—and she'd always care about his well-being. Was that it though? Was that all she felt for him?
If he were to be as severely injured as she was, how would she feel? What would go through her mind? If he were to take off tomorrow and she never saw him again, what then? If he were to die, Hyne-forbid, would she be devastated? Would she recover? Ever?
It was the answers to those types of questions that she didn't feel ready to confront yet, and that was why she didn't want them to head to the meeting together. Again, she wasn't naive. She knew that eventually, that talk would come up between them and she'd have no choice but to face it head-on.
Just not today.
He'd followed her out of the bathroom, still clad in nothing but a white towel, and accused, "Really? Because that's what this sure as hell looks like."
"I'm not 'rushing out of here' because of that! I just don't want to be late," she protested as she straightened and glanced over her shoulder at him.
With a sigh, she finally faced him again. Walking up to him, she placed her hand on his cheek and he leaned away from her touch. She lowered her hand to her side again and said, "Seifer, I just don't...Can we please not deal with this today?"
"You have a really bad fuckin' habit of referring to stuff that has to do with me as 'dealing with it'," he spat.
"I-I do not!"
"What-fucking-ever, Trepe. Just go if you're gonna go," Seifer replied from between clenched teeth. He broke eye contact and walked away, farther into the room.
When she heard him say 'Trepe', her heart dropped into her stomach. He must've been far more upset than she'd originally thought if he'd resorted to his defensive mechanism of referring to her by her last name.
"Why do you do that?" she asked quietly as she watched him drop the towel. Normally, she'd admire the view but at this particular moment in time, the tension between them made things awkward and she felt like she'd be violating him somehow by doing that.
"Do what?" he asked vehemently, refusing to turn around and face her again as he pulled on his boxers.
"Call me Trepe. You haven't done that lately."
"You know what, I'm gonna pull a you and say I don't wanna fuckin' talk about it right now. Didn't I say to go if you wanted to go so badly?" He yanked a plain black shirt over his head and pulled it down roughly.
"Seifer…" Quistis trailed off.
"Go!" he shouted, whirling around and throwing an intense glare her way.
She knitted her eyebrows and spun on her heel, pulling the door open a little harder than she'd intended to, and it slammed against the wall as she stepped out into the hall. She didn't bother to close it behind her and stalked towards the conference room on the other end of the Palace. When she was passing by the seating area across from the hallway that led back towards the main lobby, she heard a loud thud behind her and clenched her jaw when she realized that Seifer had slammed the door shut.
By the time she got to the conference room, she was practically stomping and had to pause in front of the door to compose herself. She took a few deep breaths and wrapped her fingers around the doorknob, letting out a long exhale as she twisted it open. Bright sunlight streamed into the room from the wide windows, causing the air to feel stifling. Apparently, whoever had used the room last hadn't bothered to shut the blinds. She blinked rapidly to allow her eyes to adjust to the sudden change and eventually, her gaze landed on Squall, who was standing in front of the whiteboard to her right.
She cleared her throat and greeted him with, "Good morning, Squall," as she wandered into the room and beelined for the coffee machine.
He watched in silence as she poured herself a mug. She opted for completely black coffee this morning—Hyne knew she needed it after that little spiff. Afterwards, she faced Squall again and leaned against the portable island that the coffee machine rested on.
They stared at each other for a few seconds before Squall let out a small, almost nonexistent chuckle and said, "It's good to see you back on your feet."
She smiled—despite her inner turmoil—and replied, "It's good to be back. Another day cooped up in my room and I might've gone insane."
"I'm right there with you," he agreed, crossing his arms over his chest.
She laughed under her breath and wrapped her other hand around the coffee mug, staring into the dark depths of the magical liquid. After a few seconds, Squall asked, "Where are Zell and Seifer?"
Trying to maintain a neutral expression, she cleared her throat again and said, "I'm not sure. I didn't pass either of them in the hall."
He grunted and rested his hands on the back of the chair in front of him, leaning his weight against it. "They'd better hurry. The more time we waste, the farther Bywater gets."
"I'm sure they'll be here soon. We are about ten minutes early, after all."
He let out another grunt and turned towards her, holding her gaze. After studying her for a little bit, he asked, "So how are you feeling?"
"Is that concern I detect in your voice, Commander?" she teased.
That earned her an eye roll and he mumbled, "Whatever."
She let out an actual laugh and replied, "I'm fine. I'm a little sore, but I'm closer to feeling normal than I was two days ago. What about you?"
"About the same. I didn't require surgery though, so I'd suspect I'm a little better off than you were," he explained, rolling his shoulder around as if he were testing that theory.
"No surgery is good," she commented, to which he nodded in agreement.
The door opened then and Zell barrelled into the room, throwing out a chipper, "Mornin' guys!"
Quistis raised her coffee mug in greeting and Squall nodded, gesturing to the seat on his right. Zell acquiesced and flopped down into the chair, causing a puff of air to whoosh out of the leather seat. He leaned back, kicking his leg up on his other knee and noted, "Seifer still not here yet?"
She trailed over to the chair in front of her—the one on Squall's left—and pulled it out, sinking down into it in a much more refined manner than Zell had. "I doubt he's much of a morning person. He'll probably waltz in ten minutes after we start."
Squall scoffed and said, "Sounds about right. Should we just get started then?"
"I don't see why not," she replied, setting her mug down on the table.
Seifer had never been one for caring about the details anyway, so she doubted he'd be irked that they'd started without him.
Squall threw a file folder in front of both of them. "Most of that stuff you two have already seen. I updated the file with the information that Zell and Seifer found yesterday, Quistis, if you want to catch up."
She nodded and opened the file, scanning through the new sheets of paper on top. Meanwhile, Squall gestured to the board behind him. "We now know that Marcus Bywater is the son of Ronan Bywater, a former Estharian soldier that became collateral damage when President Laguna and his squad stumbled upon the excavation site. According to the journal that Seifer found, he'd originally targeted Laguna for revenge, but switched his target to me when he found out that we'd be present during Adel Memorial Week. An eye for an eye, so to speak."
The door to the conference room opened again and Seifer stepped in, shutting the door rather loudly behind him. Everyone glanced up at him and Quistis was the first to look away, fixing her gaze back on the file in front of her. Once Seifer had pulled out the seat beside her and sat down, Squall continued.
"Quistis, after you and Seifer caught up to him, did you manage to see which way he went?"
Quistis shook her head in denial and replied, "I ordered Seifer to follow after him, but he ended up returning not long after."
"Yeah, you were fuckin' bleeding out," Seifer retorted.
Quistis clenched her jaw at his defensive tone of voice; he was obviously still angry. "Yes, I am well aware of my condition at that time. I was simply explaining to Squall that I wasn't able to see which way Marcus went, because I wasn't there."
"Right. I'm sure that's what you were doing," Seifer replied, his tone ice cold.
From across the table, Zell's gaze flitted from Quistis to Seifer, and back, before he raised an eyebrow. "Uh…" he trailed off.
Squall sighed and looked at Seifer. "Fine. Did you see which way he went?"
Seifer propped his elbow up on the table and rested his chin in his hand. "I followed him all the way to the other end of the block, behind the Airstation. He hopped onto a motorcycle and that's when I ran back to Trepe's location. From what I could see he was headin' east, but he could've easily changed his mind."
The Commander straightened and crossed his arms again, looking away as he fell into deep thought. They all gave him a moment to form a plan. By this point, they knew him well enough to know that once he was finished, he'd share with the group.
Sometimes, it was best to let Squall be Squall.
After a couple of minutes, he faced them again. "Well, that's better than nothing. At least we have some sort of lead on him. Seifer, Quistis, I want you guys to check with Kiros or Ward about looking at camera footage. I'm sure Esthar has a system set up where we can try to find Marcus and track his route; he probably left the city.
"Zell, you're one of the best with technology. Use Esthar's mainframe to find out as much as you possibly can about Marcus, now that we know a little bit of his background. See if he has any other residences outside of Esthar; see if you can get a bit more on his previous jobs, his experience—anything and everything."
The three of them nodded and Squall started heading towards the door. When he'd pulled it open, he turned back and instructed, "We'll reconvene tonight."
The door clicked shut behind him and Quistis pushed her chair back, standing up to stretch. She winced at the slight pull of the new skin over her wound. Zell saw her rubbing her abdomen and asked, "You sure you're ready to come back, Quisty?"
She glanced up at the martial artist and waved her hand in the air. "I can't stay in my room for another minute, Zell."
Zell nodded, and he and Seifer rose to their feet as well. Seifer placed his hands on his hips and said. "Before we get to it, I'm starving. Let's get food first."
"Where did you wanna go?" Zell piped up.
Seifer stared at Zell for a second before he quipped, "Did you hear me invite you?"
Zell's mouth dropped open and he sat there in confusion for a few seconds until Seifer guffawed and added, "I'm just kidding, shit. Let's go then."
The two men headed for the door and Quistis shook her head, holding her hand out. "Wait. I don't want to head out too far from the Palace. Especially since we have to come back here anyway."
Zell dropped his arms and hunched over at the waist. "Oh come on, Quisty! You're the one who's been cooped up here for the past few days; let's get out! Go somewhere! I want breakfast food!"
"I don't like breakfast food," Seifer commented.
Zell faced Seifer, his mouth open in astonishment. "Dude, who doesn't like breakfast food? Bacon and eggs are like, the best."
After discussing back and forth on the best course of action, Quistis managed to convince them that staying at the Palace and ordering from the kitchens was a solid plan. Considering the tasks from Squall were all carried out at the Palace, it made no sense to her to leave, only to come right back. All things considered, it seemed like a waste of time, in her opinion.
It took about fifteen minutes for their food to get up to the conference room—"Quisty, you got me bacon and eggs, right?!"—and for the most part, they ate in silence. Seifer didn't voluntarily say anything to her, and in return, she didn't go out of her way to say anything to him. Zell must've picked up on the awkward signals because halfway through the meal, he started staring intently at the two of them.
Seifer frown intensified and he pointed at Zell with his fork. "The hell you starin' at?"
Zell picked his fork back up and shrugged nonchalantly. "Nothing. You guys are just acting kinda weird today."
"How so?" Quistis pressed, her eyebrows pinched together. The fact that Zell was able to pick up on the tension between them unnerved her—especially since he'd done so rather easily. She doubted Seifer would care if the group found out about them; she was the one who didn't know whether she wanted to tell anyone just yet. Mostly though, that stemmed from the fact that she still wasn't sure how to label them.
The martial artist set his silverware down again and crossed his arms, leaning back in the chair. After he tilted his head upwards, seemingly lost in thought, he said, "Well...usually you guys are kind of...you bicker a lot, you know? Ever since we started eating, you've been super quiet—which isn't like you guys. Plus there was that weird tension earlier—"
Seifer scoffed, interrupting Zell, and Quistis resisted the urge to glare at him. Instead, she met Zell's gaze and in a monotone voice, replied, "Oh, really? I guess I've never noticed before."
To that, Seifer snorted. He seemed hellbent on acting like a petulant child and Quistis groaned inwardly. If that's what she had to put up with for the rest of the day, she didn't know if she'd make it until sundown.
After all, he always had been the best at pushing her buttons.
Once they were finished eating, they trekked out into the hall and went their separate ways: Zell headed for the control room down in the basement, and Quistis and Seifer headed down the hall towards Laguna's office to find Kiros and Ward.
The President's office was difficult to miss. A unique set of double doors marked the entrance: frosted blue glass that mirrored the lobby's floors were set inside of dark mahogany wood, framed by golden detailing that traced around the opaque panes. They paused in front of the doors and Seifer raised his fist, rapping his knuckles against the glass in rapid succession.
From within the office, Laguna's ever-cheerful voice called out to them. "Cooome on in!"
Seifer rolled his eyes and turned the door knob, striding into the office with assertive purpose. Quistis trailed after him and glanced around the room at the extravagant surroundings. A guy like Laguna, who was perpetually in casual mode, seemed incredibly out of place in such an opulent room.
The floor was adorned with extremely plush carpet and directly in the center of the space, in front of Laguna's desk, rested the Estharian crest in all of its multi-colored, vibrant glory. The walls were covered in the highest quality wallpaper that was a pale blue, with pearly-white stripes running vertically along the length of the wall. A wide, spotless window loomed behind the President, offering what was probably the best view of Esthar to the room's inhabitants. Beside the desk, on either side of Laguna, stood Kiros and Ward.
When Seifer and Quistis stood directly in front of the desk, Laguna rose and Quistis firmly saluted the President, while Seifer nodded in his direction.
As per usual, Laguna offered a jovial wave and a cheerful smile. "Hey guys! What can I do for ya?"
Quistis continued to stand at attention, though she dropped her salute. "We were actually looking for Kiros and Ward, President Loire."
"Quistis…" Laguna reprimanded softly, which caused the blue mage to sigh under her breath.
"Sorry...Laguna, we were looking for Kiros and Ward," she amended.
Kiros piped up and asked, "Whatever for?"
This time, Seifer responded. "We need to look at camera footage for the city. Tryin' to hunt down Bywater's exit route to see if we can pinpoint where he went after the shooting."
Understanding lit up Kiros' face and he said, "Ah, that makes perfect sense. Come with me," before walking past them towards the door.
Quistis saluted Laguna again while Seifer followed after Kiros, and as they were on their way out of the office, Laguna called out, "See you later, Quistis!"
She threw a smile over her shoulder towards the President and Ward waved goodbye as the doors shut behind her. Seifer and Kiros were a ways ahead so she sped up a bit in order to catch up to them. Kiros hung a left once they'd reached the main sitting area and headed towards the lobby.
Confused, Quistis questioned, "Kiros, where is the security wing?"
As they descended the steps, he replied, "It's actually not connected to the main Palace. We have to head out into the Plaza and through a side door to get to it."
Seifer raised an eyebrow and asked, "There a reason for that?"
"Only that Adel was extremely paranoid. During her reign is when the security wing was installed, and though she demanded that they keep a close eye on the citizens, she didn't trust them enough to have them that near in proximity to where she resided."
"Crazy bitch," Seifer muttered, to which Kiros replied, "Indeed."
They crossed the Plaza diagonally and approached a small, two-story, non-descript building. Instead of heading to the front door, Kiros rounded the corner to the side of the building and stepped up to an industrial-looking steel door that was set into the brick wall. He punched in a four-number code into the door's keypad and after it let out a beep, it bounced open, allowing the trio to head inside.
A guard directly inside the door faced them and when he recognized Kiros, he bowed at the waist. "Vice President Seagill."
Kiros nodded in return and gestured to Quistis and Seifer behind him. "Greetings, Johnson. This is Seifer Almasy and SeeD Quistis Trepe. They're here to inspect the security footage for the city."
Johnson inclined his head in their direction and Kiros turned around, facing the duo head-on. "I'm going to head back to the Palace now but if you have any questions, have Johnson contact me."
Quistis nodded. "Thank you, Kiros."
The Vice President headed back out to the Plaza and after she turned back around, Johnson waved them over to the small staircase at the far end of the room.
As they ascended, Quistis stared at the back of Seifer's coat, her eyebrows slightly furrowed. Since their little spat this morning, he'd spoken a grand total of maybe twenty words to her, which like Zell had said, was highly unlike the blond gunbladist. Usually he sniped sarcastic remarks at her, or teased her relentlessly about trivial things. Surprisingly, she found that she kind of missed his jabs; anything was better than this uncharacteristic silent treatment.
Is he honestly going to ignore me the entire day? This is the exact reason I was hesitant to say anything to the group…she thought with a huff.
They reached the next landing and Johnson wandered down the hall, coming to a stop in front of the second door on their right. He gestured to the interior of the room through the open doorway and explained, "This is the camera room. You can use the console to go back through the footage to whenever you need. If you get confused, I'll be outside."
Johnson turned and headed back over to the staircase and Seifer flipped on the light switch as he walked into the room. Quistis trailed in after him and shut the door, making her way over to the console and sinking down into the chair beside Seifer. A weird sense of deja vu swept over her and she realized that it had been less than a week since they'd flown to Esthar on the Ragnarok, in a setting much like this one.
Could that much have changed between us in less than seven days?
Seifer reached up and switched on the console, and the buzzing hum of the electronic panel coming to life filled the room. Now, instead of empty silence, they had white noise. Quistis crossed her arms over her body as she waited for him to find the right footage, grasping her elbows within her palms.
He typed a few things into the control keyboard, and the footage dated the night of the events popped up onto the screen. A couple clicks of the mouse later, he'd switched through the cameras until he settled on the one that rested outside of the Airstation. With a neutral expression, he turned to Quistis and asked, "Ready?"
She nodded and he pressed play; the black and white video showed various Estharian citizens walking past the Airstation, and Quistis glanced at the time-stamp. She pointed at it and instructed, "It's too early. Go forward a little bit."
Seifer grunted and pressed a button on the console, causing the video to zoom ahead until it hit early evening. Quistis held up her hand and said, "Okay, stop. You should be showing up in about an hour."
"You don't seriously want to sit through an hour of people walkin' by, do you?"
"...No, I guess not. Fast-forward again," she said, and the video zoomed ahead until the view darkened, implying that the sun had set in the footage. Seifer let off of the button and the time-stamp now showed that it was just before the fireworks had begun.
He kicked back in his seat, resting his ankle on the opposite knee and bracing his hands behind his head. With him rocking back and forth and her staring intently at the screen, they sat there in silence for about ten minutes, when Marcus' figure raced across the camera's viewpoint.
"There he is...which means I'm about to show up in a few seconds," Seifer noted.
"Thanks for the commentary," she quipped.
"You're fuckin' welcome," he replied, though his profanity lacked its usual fire. In fact, he sounded sarcastically chipper, which ended up irritating Quistis even more than if he'd just cursed with conviction.
In the hopes of being the bigger person, Quistis opted for silence and continued to watch the footage. True to what he'd said, a couple of seconds later, Seifer came into view, sprinting after Marcus.
It was slightly disorienting watching the same events play out from a different angle than she'd originally witnessed. On the screen, she saw Seifer tackle Marcus and they exchanged blows. Not long after, she saw herself join in the fray.
"You can skip this too, since we know how it ends. Jump to the side camera that shows the street behind the Airstation," she instructed.
"'Cause you call all the shots, right? Since you're on point?" Seifer spat.
Surprised by his sudden anger, she whirled around. "What? If you're referring to the mission then yes, I do."
He turned and met her gaze. "What else would I be talkin' about?" he deadpanned.
"Don't," Quistis threatened, her voice low.
"Don't what?" he needled.
"This! Don't pretend like you don't know what I'm talking about! You're blowing this entire thing out of proportion!"
"Yeah, okay. You're just too damn embarrassed to admit it," he rebutted.
"There's nothing to admit," she huffed indignantly, turning back to the screen.
Unfortunately, now that Seifer was riled up, it didn't seem like he was going to drop it. "Come on! Don't be a pussy, Trepe. Even if you are embarrassed to admit it to your little orphanage friends, at least have the balls to say it to my face instead of leading me on."
Quistis clenched her jaw and refused to respond to his bait. On the screen, Seifer chased Marcus down the side alley and Marcus hopped onto a waiting motorcycle, like Seifer had recounted this morning. He started up the bike and sped off-screen, at which point, she saw Seifer about-face and run back in the opposite direction.
"This doesn't give us any leads," she mumbled, frustrated at both the lack of direction the footage offered as well as Seifer's attitude.
"Un-fucking-believable," he muttered.
The tone of his voice rubbed her the wrong way and she balled her hands into tight fists as she whirled around to face him. "Now what?" she asked from between clenched teeth.
"Is this seriously all that's important to you? Is this all you care about in your sad little life?" he spat.
Quistis' mouth fell open in shock at his animosity. "Excuse me?"
"Your fuckin' job! I'm trying to have a discussion with you about shit that's actually important and you keep focusing on your Hyne-damned work!" he shouted, throwing his hands up in her face.
She leaned away from his frantic gestures and reprimanded, "Because we are on a mission, Seifer. This is our job, regardless of what you might think about it. We didn't come here to discuss the dynamics of whatever might be between us."
"Might be? For the love of Hyne, Quistis. Sounds like you just want to sweep me under the fucking rug. Like I'm some Hyne-damned stray animal you took in out of pity, or some shit. I knew you were cold-hearted but this is beyond any expectation I might've had," he retorted, breaking eye contact and looking away at the wall.
Confused and hurt by his words, Quistis opened her mouth to respond but closed it immediately after. At Garden, cadets had jokingly referred to her as the 'Ice Queen'. Over time, the nickname began to have a rather negative connotation in her mind. It implied that she was unattainable, unapproachable...an automaton who simply followed the routine that Garden dictated. She had always hoped that someone would see past that persona and realize that she was a woman; a woman who, like everyone else, has wants, needs, desires, and dreams.
After opening herself up and allowing Seifer to see the vulnerable sides of her, it hurt to hear him say it.
Tears pooled in her eyes and her throat tightened as she quietly replied. "I don't even know what we are, Seifer. How could I possibly tell my friends if I don't even know what this is between us. But I'm sorry, Seifer. I'm sorry that I failed to meet your expectations."
In truth, that was only partially the reason. On the one hand, Quistis didn't know where they stood; neither one of them had been willing to broach the subject about "what" they were. It seemed juvenile to say they were dating or that he was her "boyfriend", and somewhere not so deep down inside, she was terrified that if she did ask, Seifer would run. She was so afraid that he would tell her it was only a fling and that by bringing it up, it would imply to him that she wanted something more.
Men tended to disappear once the topic of long-term commitment came up. To back that up with sound evidence, she rarely ever put herself out there and the few times that she had, she'd been rejected. If Seifer rejected her...she wasn't sure if she'd be able to handle it. The voice at the back of her mind told her that that, in and of itself, implied that her feelings had moved beyond a simple fling. But her fear of rejection was far more prominent than that knowledge.
So she figured it was better to not ask.
They stood there, chests heaving as they stared each other down. Eventually, when Seifer spoke, his voice was low, almost impossible to hear. If Quistis didn't know any better, she might've thought that he sounded hurt.
"Damn it, Quistis. Do I really need to spell it out for you? Do you honestly not have a single fuckin' clue?"
He stared at her, waiting for her response, his gaze so intense and bright that she felt like he could stare into her soul. What frightened her the most about the ferocity of his stare, was that he could either rip her to pieces or lift her up higher than she'd ever been. This bizarre and unfamiliar control that he had over her emotions unnerved her.
Before she could respond, the chipper tone of his phone ringing interrupted them and broke the tension in the air. She glanced away, trying to regain her composure as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone.
After tapping the screen, he held the phone up to his ear. "What?" he snapped in lieu of a more polite greeting, the muscle in his jaw twitching.
She couldn't hear the voice on the other end well enough to tell who it was, but the muffled response of the caller reached her ears and she thought it sounded male. After a couple of seconds, Seifer replied, "You sure about that?"
More mumbling ensued and he nodded, hanging up on the caller and stuffing his phone back into his pocket. Swiftly, he turned on his heel and headed for the door, leaving behind an incredibly confused and vulnerable Quistis.
"Seifer, what's going on?" she called out to him.
He turned the knob and pushed open the door, glancing over his shoulder at her. "We're leaving."
She rushed after him and grabbed onto his coat, pulling him back. "Why? Who was that?"
"Apparently, Zell found info on Marcus in the mainframe. Says he had another residence elsewhere, so we're heading there in a few after he updates Mr. Leader," he explained, pulling his arm out of her grasp and trekking over to the stairs.
As they descended and reached the bottom floor, he made his way to the exit, always one step ahead of her. Frustrated, she grabbed his arm and pulled harder this time, commanding, "Seifer, wait. You have to keep me informed. Where are we going?"
Finally, he turned around and stared down at her, his expression tense, his eyes cold and distanced.
"Looks like we're stuck with each other a little longer, Trepe. We're heading to Deling."
Hooray! An update! Many thanks to Strings805 and LaylaEvercrest for beta-reading for me. The things Layla does with arguments and tension though...so great!
Thanks to RigorMorton, KingRamses, enigmalace, AJ Maxima, Yadda Wadda BaddaBoom, Ally Todd, and lily anson for the wonderful reviews! Extra special thank you to SilentStarlightSky for reading through the story in its entirety and leaving all of those reviews! I can't thank you enough (also, readers, if you haven't read their work, I highly suggest you do)!
To Guest: Finally, the beginnings of a discussion regarding their feelings, am I right?! The talk definitely needs to happen, but the mission takes the forefront for now - especially for Quistis. The talk will come though, that's for sure! Hahahahahahha I enjoyed Frozen, but you're right. You can only have so much of that before you start to go bonkers :P Thanks for returning to read!
To KiaraExodus: aka Cheyenne! Thank you for that! I'm so happy that you like the story so far :) I appreciate you leaving a review!
Last shout-out to SilentStarlightSky and RipleyReprised for the follows :) See you guys next time!